“A cool, dark place? And dry not too dry?”: “Childhood” by Alexander BestPosted: May 16, 2012
The rootcellar lay below my room; I’m behind that door
Where steps reached down. Dark darkened there; cool was cooler.
Second door, kitchen’s; always open, and I
Made hillocks on a saucer, of milk powder poured from a
Very large box; I licked my hand and dipped it.
Third door faced foot of the bed. It led out to
Great skies and fields with feeling-of-cliffs for corners.
The ‘dump’ that burned once also was there; the
Hawk; and the weasel, who stole under the mattress.
Were walls of loose stones: a ruined enclosure.
Gasoline drums; weird liquid spilling over many surfaces.
A giant bush / hands-and-knees tunnel;
Amidst everything, hidden — the centre.
Edible pebbles, pepperdirt pies, green blades. Poison.
Black-silk dog, growing glow-bulb mushrooms;
Stiffening; “Lady”, caught in her
Leap through shed window slamming.
And wild onions blooming…at
Brink of the forest, the tumbling path, and
Quiet and busy, the river.
Time’s grit-polished the bone of it; and
Time’s encrusted its core, like a little ‘geode’ cave.
Skeletalphabet. Hidden stratagem. Both
Are the poem. And it? What’s it?
I am grateful now, not anxious about you, Time.
Not only sad, your passing.
The house (long, narrow, one-storey’d) was like segments of a warped
Hickory train, boxcars off the rails, though
Solid in some permanent aftermath.
Caboose was “the wreck room”. We kids inscribed that name
On its door: the
End of the dim corridor, where light startled.
Room’s air was bright; on warm
Days, an excellent afternoon place; magnetic / ignored.
An atmosphere also of
Cold storage there; of business interrupted, left at that.
( black-and-red ribbon spooled off, on, in raggéd use);
Onionskin-carbonsheets, dwindled paper; brittle pencil leads. And
Me up on the shelves: files, farm / trade journals, and a
Upright piano, painted bandage colour, stood somewhere…
Did we carve the entire alphabet on its
And we lifted “the lid”, strummed harp wires with
Knives, and a rusty letter opener got
“The wreck room” had an outside door; its stone stoop
Jumping-off point for hundred-acre adventures in world-wide
Solitude. Society was: voices in our heads.
My sisters, mute; my brother, whereabouts uncertain; my father?
A Christmas tree that refused to stand / the telephone high
Upon the wall I couldn’t grasp in time; my mother?
“The wreck room” contained a ‘picture window’…
Picture was jumble of trees obscurrying on a drop-off
Edge of the land. Once, an owl (size of a man’s fist but fluffier)
Flew into the frame, stunning itself on the glass.
And then…sunned itself on the grass. Even that night.
Flowers in a whollywaterless vase.
Highborn, persistent, the sun performs its task.
Two flies frustrate themselves (sun’s a trap, between the storms);
Resolve to keep still.
Vase / its clutches of straw, scuncheoned there.
Dry-dry vase: slipped the mind’s ledge.
Boy: crept from his bed.
V ( April 1968 )
A television set has four feet, like “cattles” do; also,
Horns on it — sticks standing straight and bendy.
A television set is a radio you can see;
Sounds-box with a ‘picture window’.
Picture is jumble: something obscurrying — and no colours. A
’merican minister got murdered by a gun because he was
King of Memphis.
( Egypt is where we began, even God, and all the children
Lived under triangles. Facts are in giant books Dad left
That time he came to visit. )
Something happened with no colours: the lady crying, the
Man very tired and wet; black water came out of his body, like the
Buried spring that growed in the woods. Other
People were running, in every direction.
Department-store mannequin had no arms, no legs. It was
Tied with ropes, to the lamp-post; at the top was
I carried a small metal box: my “lunchpail”.
Sugar-butter sandwich, and in my sister’s,
By the wide gravel road
Yellow schoolbus noised over to us.
Cedar swamps: a
Fairyland we passed through, where the
Strangled girl was stored, with the chipmunks;
On our way to Grade One.
Winter, the snowplough made big banks;
I stood upon them, waiting; I was
‘Acajou’ and ‘Architek’ were “cattles”; had
Their own square of earth by the shed where
Heavy bags of nugget-dogfood were kept.
Bulls were big-boned, had more
Grit than polish. And they were important;
Their liquid-gem stash was to
Purchase a future — Dad’s idea — and
The fence around them fell apart when I played on it
— ‘Acajou’ and ‘Architek’ were not pets.
Mum and Us were Dad’s chattels, but he threw himself out,
Left us lying around all over his property.
In meatier days there’d been livestock on the farm,
hogs and piglets everywhichway.
And field-armies of lilies, staked-alive, for export.
Bulb Lilies, ancientest of flowers, are
Really something when their blooms open. And for
Awhile after, too. The best part is: when they die,
They still come back, if you care for their odd-
Potato-radish ‘bodies’; let them have their quiet in
A cool, dry, dark place.
Soup bones get jelly, when you put them in the fridge.
Bones strike awe, after several seasons out on the ground.
My mother had a ring, in the drawer. A precious cold-gem.
She drove a great distance in a car — to the City. And
Sold the ring to the shopkeeper with his telescope eye.
I knew as well as he what things look like up close.
The rootcellar lies below my room;
It’s been there since God came, ideas / shovel in tow.
Our definitions of human
Hold together, strengthen, the more He plays on us. Someday, I will
Reach down the steps. Is it
A cool, dark place? And dry not too dry? I
Believe so. Definitely, there is
No lamp. One can live in many places;
I wrote these poems when I was in my 40s, after several days of casting my mind back over my childhood, that is – my childhood up till the age of 8 – the year 1968, which was when the farm property was sold and we moved from the country (Esquesing Township, Halton County) to the city (Toronto). As children, our isolated world was both perfect and lonely; we were surrounded by “the great outdoors” yet as an un-socialized child I required much mental strength. In Toronto there began a new life for us – which included a formal end to my parents’ invisible marriage – and I had to overcome my introverted nature so as to make my first friends ever, those being kids from the rough-and-tumble world of the city.
Poem V (April 1968)
refers to the arrival of our first television set – black and white, of course – and to my first television memory – that of seeing newsreel footage of rioting in U.S. cities after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis, Tennessee. That mannequin “lynched” to a utility pole is my first T.V. image. Others, more light-hearted, would follow – “Felix, the Wonderful Cat”, “Rocky and Bullwinkle”, etc…
“Their liquid-gem stash” is semen from two Charolais bulls, Acajou and Architek. Dad wished to begin an artificial insemination business since so many cows on farms were injured even crippled when bulls mounted them ‘au naturel’.
. . .
The farm was a standard 100-acre Southern Ontario farm and was located on Number 15 SideRoad, between 8th and 9th Lines, in Esquesing Township. A branch of the Credit River flowed at the north boundary of the property. Nearby Georgetown has expanded in the past 50 years, its population growing from about 10,000 people in the early 1960s to just over 40,000 people today. Consequently, the farm has vanished – the whole of it was developed as a residential subdivision during the 1990s.
. . . . .